How to Properly Sear Meat

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Sear Meat

Searing is about building flavor. Cooking a simple protein with just salt and pepper can result in a very tasty dish if you know how to sear properly and create compound complex flavor from simple ingredients. It starts with the meat but also creates the base for a rich and delicious sauce. All those complex savory, nutty, caramelized flavors are created by learning how to properly sear. If not, you are left with an overcooked gray piece of meat. Don’t let this happen to you! Here is how to achieve that proper sear just like a pro. I know it looks like a lot of steps but I have broken it down so you can really understand and master the process. Once you know the method it is easy and can be used with many varieties of meat and seafood. Have extra questions or want to share your experience? Share here! I am happy to help.

What You Need

Ingredients

Beef, chicken, pork, lamb, fish etc. . .
High heat oil like safflower, light olive, peanut, vegetable or canola oil
1 cup of liquid such as red or white wine, broth, or water

Equipment

  • Heavy-bottomed stainless steel or cast-iron skillet
  • Tongs or heavy spatula

Instructions

  1. Choose the right pan: To properly sear meat use a heavy-bottomed stainless steel or cast-iron skillet. You are looking for a pan that can be heated to a high temperature and evenly distribute the heat throughout the surface. This helps sear the meat evenly and quickly. Thin stainless steel non-stick pans are not recommended.
  2. Remove Excess Moisture: Gently pat the meat dry with paper towels. This makes for less hot oil splattering when you add it to the pan and better contact between the meat and pan surface, creating a nice dry sear rather than a steaming effect.
  3. Season with salt and pepper: Sprinkle the meat liberally with salt and pepper. Salt will draw moisture out of the meat so do this just before cooking or pat dry again before adding it to the pan. Salt helps draw out moisture so adding salt in advance helps crisp up the skin nicely if cooking something like chicken legs or duck breasts.
  4. Heat the skillet to medium-high: Set the skillet over medium-high to high heat. You may have to adjust the temperature based on the pan and heat source you are using. The more you do this the easier and more familiar it will become.
  5. Coat the pan with oil: Use oil with a high smoke point, this is referring to the temperature at which the oil will burn. Something like safflower, light olive, peanut, vegetable or canola oil will work great. Avoid fats like butter, coconut or extra virgin olive oil that will burn at lower temps.Heat will destroy the properties of these more delicate fats. Just coat the pan lightly with enough oil to film the bottom of the pan. When it shimmers and flows smoothly across the bottom of the pan, it’s ready.
  6. Add the meat to the pan: Gently set the meat in the pan “presentation side down”. This means the prettiest face of the meat should touch the pan first, if it has the skin on still this side should hit the pan first to make for the most attractive caramelized visual appeal. The meat should sizzle on contact and stick to the bottom of the pan. Resist the urge to touch it. It must stick to get a good sear. If it doesn’t sizzle remove it and allow the pan to continue heating. Lightly press the meat so it has good contact with the pan. If you are cooking pieces of meat, arrange them in a single layer about an inch apart; cook in batches if necessary.
  7. Allow the meat to sear: For the first two to three minutes do not move the meat. Have patience, do not poke at it or try to pry it off the pan; just let it sizzle. It will release naturally when it is ready.
  8. Flip the meat: Once the first side has completely seared, it will release easily from the pan. Gently shake the pan or carefully check one end with tongs to see if it has released. When it does, flip the meat to the other side. The seared surface should be caramelized and dark brown but not burned.
  9. Check the “fond”: The “fond” is those caramelized particulates that stick to the pan after you flip the meat. It is important not to burn these as these are like flavor crystals packed with concentrated flavor that will add depth to your sauce later. If the Fond starts to look dry or begins to smell like it is burning, lower the heat and add just a little more oil to the pan. If you burn the Fond – toss it out, it will taste burned and bitter.
  10. Continue searing the meat: Again, do not move the meat as you sear the other side. If you are cooking a roast, continue to cook on all sides so the entire roast has a nice caramelized look. For smaller pieces of meat, cook the sides if desired, or transfer them to a clean plate and continue searing the remaining meat in batches. If the Fond starts to burn – “deglaze” the pan between batches and add more oil.Allow the pan to reheat to continue the searing process.
  11. Deglaze the pan:  Once you have finished searing, there will be particulates and maybe a sticky glaze left on this pan. This is your Fond. To remove it and start making a sauce begin by transferring the meat to a clean plate. Pour 1 cup of liquid into the pan. It should bubble immediately and start dissolving the glaze. Scrape the bottom of the pan to work up any tough bits.  You can add this liquid to a soup, braise or continue reducing and add aromatics to make a pan sauce.
  12. Finishing The Meat: If you are just browning little pieces you can easily cook them through in the pan. If you are cooking a larger piece of meat or roast it will not fully cook thought by searing alone. You must “finish” the meat. You have two options to finish cooking the meat. You can finish in the pan or the oven. To finish in the pan after you deglaze turn the heat to medium, add the meat back and cover. Cook for additional 1.5-4 minutes per side depending on the thickness and desired level of doneness you desire. To finish in the oven, preheat oven to 375 degrees and place meat in an oven-safe dish. Cook until desired level of doneness. I prefer this method, as it dose not steam the outside of the meat. This is also perfect for roasts that take longer to fully cook.
  13. Allow the Meat to Rest: After you have finished cooking the meat either in the pan or in the oven allow it to rest for at least 5 minutes, longer for large roasts. This lets the juice redistribute through the meat making it nice and juicy. This time will also continue cooking the meat so allow 5-10 degrees for carry over when you are checking the temperature for the desired level of doneness. Save any pan drippings that may be left in the pan and add them to your sauce.

That’s it! Now you know how to properly sear like a pro! Share your comments and experience below.

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